1. Five key features characterize large‐scale factors in ecology: (a) they incorporate some of the most major of all ecological phenomena – the ranges of organisms, patterns of diversity, variations in ecosystem character and environmental processes such as climate, biogeochemical cycles, dispersal and migration; (b) they involve interactions across scales through both top‐down and bottom‐up processes; (c) they are multifaceted, and hence require an interdisciplinary perspective; (d) they reflect the cumulative effects of anthropogenic change across all scales, and so have direct relevance to environmental management; (e) they invariably exceed the range of classical ecological experiments, and so require alternative approaches to hypothesis testing. 2. Against this background, a recent research initiative on large‐scale ecology and hydrology was funded jointly by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department (SERAD). Outputs from this programme are reported in this special issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology, and they illustrate some of the ecological research that is currently in progress in the UK at large spatio‐temporal scales. 3. The spatial scales investigated in the papers range from hectares to whole continents, and much of the work reported here involves modelling. Although the model outputs are intrinsically valuable, several authors express the need for improved validation and testing. We suggest that this is an area requiring much development, and will need considerable innovation due to the difficulties at the scales involved (see 1d). Possible methods include: model applications to new circumstances; large‐scale environmental manipulations; large‐scale surveys that mimic experimental protocols; support from process studies at smaller scales. These alternatives are not mutually exclusive, and all can allow robust hypothesis testing. 4. Much of the work reported here is interdisciplinary linking, for example, geographical, mathematical, hydrological, hydrochemical and ecological concepts (see 1c). We suggest that even stronger links between environmental disciplines will further aid large‐scale ecological research. 5. Most important in the context of the Journal of Applied Ecology, the work reported in this issue reveals that large‐scale ecology already has applied value. Sectors benefiting include the conservation of biodiversity, the control of invasive species, and the management of land and water resources. 6. Large‐scale issues continue to affect many applied ecologists, with roughly 30–40% of papers published in the Journal of Applied Ecology typically confronting such problems. This special issue adds to the growing body of seminal contributions that will add impetus to further large‐scale work. Moreover, occurring in a period when other areas of biology are increasingly reductionist, this collection illustrates that, at least with respect to large‐scale environmental problems, ecology still holds centre ground.
Journal of Applied Ecology – Wiley
Published: Sep 1, 2000
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